What startups can learn from this dumpster fire year

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Remember when it was news that venture capitalists were open for business? Or when Zoom investing was only done by that one guy in Ann Arbor (ha, I kid!)? These past few months have felt busier than ever, with no holiday slowdown in sight when it comes to startup growth, hot IPOs and new financings.

Even with a distracting bull market, I wanted to reflect and see how the youngest startups are faring. Alex Wilhem and I dove into data, provided by Pitchbook, to see if the next DoorDashes and Airbnbs are getting their first financings.

The answer is that seed investing flourished but in a complicated way. COVID-19 shook up which startups were considered attractive by private investors. And that changeup came at risk to certain sectors and people.

Here’s how two investors explained the dynamics:

Freestyle’s Jenny Lefcourt:

I think seed prices are being driven up by the larger [venture] firms playing earlier and feeling like they cannot afford to miss the next DoorDash. I think the larger firms have so much capital to put to work and feel they are better off burning some [cash] at seed for the upside of being in the right [startups] where they can double, triple, 10x down on their winners.

Eniac Ventures’ Nihal Mehta:

Because you can’t meet in person, investors felt way more comfortable investing in ‘proven’ entrepreneurs that had pre-existing connections to their social circle.

The long-term ramifications of this tunnel vision means that female founders lost out during this time, since social circles in venture capital are largely white and male. From a sector perspective, e-commerce and edtech have had an easy time raising, but at the cost of travel and hospitality.

The data brings a sort of dissonance to startup-land: Even though seed investing has never looked more busy and fruitful, this is good news for some, and bad news for others. It’s a healthy reminder that a boom and bust can be true at the same time.

How’s that for a 2020 sign-off? We’ll be off next week but in the meantime, two bits of homework: Take advantage of this Extra Crunch holiday sale and send me tips and thoughts to natasha.mascarenhas@techcrunch.com or tweet me @nmasc_ in between your holiday treats.

I’ll chat with you all in the New Year.

Waves of sheets of paper that mimic fire

Image Credits: Getty Images

Edtech’s biggest challenge in 2021

No sector has had a year quite like edtech. The sector attracted $10 billion in funding globally, and remote learning went from a tool to a necessity.

Here are my favorite edtech stories I wrote this year:

Finally, in my end-of-year op-ed for TechCrunch, I propose that the ubiquity of remote learning surely brought a boom to new users, but it may have in fact limited the sector’s ability to innovate in lieu of fast, easy scale.

Here’s my biggest tip for the year ahead:

For edtech in 2020, flexible and scrappy was a survival tactic that led to profits, growth and most of all, aha moments that technology was needed in the way we learn. Now, as we enter the rest of the decade, the sector will have to shake off its short-term-fix mentality to evolve from tunnel vision to wide-pan ambition.


light bulb flickering on and off

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

A $16B checkbook for space startups

Funding for space startups is defying odds — which is the poetic flair we need once in a while. As part of our TC Sessions: Space 2020 event, a number of TechCrunch reporters dove deep into what kind of money is going into … the space.

Chris Boshuizen of the venture firm DCVC and a co-founder of Planet Labs notably said:

We don’t yet live in the sci-fi future, where you can just fly up, grab a piece of debris and bring it back. That’s really, really hard — I think probably five years away — but something we want to support and see happen.

Image of Uncle Sam floating in space with the Space Force logo above his left shoulder.

Remembering the startups we lost in 2020 

Building a startup is always difficult, but the pandemic was a plot twist that led to a not-so-happy ending for many companies this year. So, as part of an annual TechCrunch tradition, we paid homage to the startups we lost in 2020. 

Here are my takeaways:

  • This is not a fun list. Failure is hard, but you can learn a thing or two when you sort through the ashes. For example? Big names, big plans and a boatload of money isn’t a replacement for actually making money.
  • List includes short-form video app Quibi, to lawyer tech startup Atrium, to a slew of travel startups that fell apart as the virus dragged on. 
  • While some businesses chalked up failure to COVID-19, the cracks and fundamental business flaws were often peeking through far before the pandemic began.

Around TechCrunch

TechCrunch’s Favorite Things of 2020

Gift Guide: Last-minute subscriptions to keep the gifts going all year

Video: TechCrunch editors choose their top stories of 2020

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital closes on $100 million as the cannabis industry bounces back

Activism platform actionable helps users be proactive about the causes they love

Letterhead wants to be the Shopify of email newsletters

Telegram, nearing 500 million users, to begin monetizing the app

The Biden administration can change the world with new crypto regulations

Seen on Extra Crunch

With a $50B run rate, can anyone stop AWS?

Looking ahead after 2020s epic M&A spree

Dear Sophie: What’s ahead for US immigration in 2021?

The built environment will be one of tech’s next big platforms


Finally, Equity is ending the year with two holiday episodes. This week, we’ve got reflections on this dumpster fire year. I teamed up with Danny, Chris and Alex to just sit back and think about this eventful year. We also got five venture capitalists who we got to leave us their notes as well.

The goal for this episode was to sit down and think about a year that no one could have ever predicted, but with a specific angle, as always, on venture capital and startups.

We asked about the biggest surprise, nonportfolio companies to watch and trends they got wrong and right. There was also banter on Zoom investing (Alex came up with Zesting, not me) and startup pricing.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.